I caught part of a BBC 4 radio programme today, Sunday, while driving. Radio 4 used to be called “the Home Service,” though the BBC never explained home to what or to whom.
Anyhow, the programme was entitled, Love Your Country? the question almost an encouragement to those dithering about voting for Scotland’s self-determination to dither longer. Don’t allow the stray question mark into making you think the programme was an exercise in academic scepticism. It was not.
The unknown to me (Sir) Professor David Cannadine is an English-born, (Birmingham) historian working in Princeton University, New Jersey, USA, which is probably why he allowed a gravely voiced loud American to appear every so often as leitmotif at various points in the programme posturing the thesis survival of the planet would be assured if it not for the plethora of small nation states. He hated nationalism but never defined it. I took that to mean, Planet Earth is better run by, and governed exclusively by, the United States of Amnesia, an ideal he devoutly wished.
In the middle of a series of short interviews the learned professor asked an Englishman his view, one attending Scotland’s Highland Games. Why he felt it had to be an English spectator at the Highland Games escapes my understanding.
Here, slightly paraphrased, are the comments the professor received:
“Nations are often based on a myth. Scotland has its own, Ossian, purportedly a great leader, tall, blonde hair, blue eyes, who composed an epic poem placing the history of Scotland on paper. It turned out to be a fraud; some professor in the middle of the 18th century had concocted carefully faked on scraps of parchment. I mean, Scotland only became a nation … [hesitates] about the tenth century, and even then it was Irish. Then you get the kilt, the whole of Scotland is based on tartan but there are only half-a-dozen real tartans, the rest are modern, commercial designs. And the pleated kilt only came in about 1850. It’s all myth, which when it comes to the independence question worries me.”
Let’s take a careful look at that statement.
I am used to BBC anti-Scottish propaganda being subtle but what was broadcast was history culled from a Brighton postcard written by a boozy hack for the Encylopedia Britannica back in the 1930s.
Should we laugh at merry England based on the myth of Robin Hood? (He never wrote poetry.) The difference is, Scotland does not have the industry or institutions to create wealth from the Ossian myth. England has made money out of Robin Hood films, television series, and books, for decades. It helped create the gargantuan myth of an egalitarian people served by a happy band of renegades of aristocratic stock – aristos (Tories) who have a conscience – dealing out summary justice with a joke and a jape, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Whereas in reality we live in a time where the hyper-rich have stolen the largest sum in human history from the masses with the help of our representatives, and no one has gone to prison.
1. I have met only two people in my entire life who believed there was some substance to the existence of Ossian, his poems genuine. The poems are genuine just not written by “Ossian,” their cod history as good as Tolkien’s turgid Lord of the Rings, only Tolkein’s poems are hellishly clunky. “Ossian’s” poetry is at least half-decent.
2. Scotland only became a nation in the 10th century. Only? A nation hundreds of years but that doesn’t count? Is he serious? An entire people dismissed as not really who they think they are. This is classic colonial claptrap, a determined attempt to remove confidence in place and culture.
3. There are many more than six tartans if you bother to count the clans and all their septs, (off-shoot relatives and their families) plus battle tartan, hunting tartan, dress tartan, and so on, and so forth, accorded to each clan. Yes, there are modern tartans, lots of them, but how many modern English heraldic crests are there? Does that have an adverse effect on English culture and history? There is no English equivalent to tartan hence the need of Scotland’s enemies to reduce it to a handful of patterns to make it meaningless as a cultural asset.
4. The pleated kilt was an invention of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert. The man at the Highland Games omitted to mention kilt and tartan were banned by England for decades as a repressive method of reducing Scots to an indistinguishable stateless tribe.
Finally, we come to his last remark, a personal one on the forthcoming Referendum.
Why were his comments left unchallenged?
The learned professor did not trouble himself to suggest his interviewee was limited in his knowledge of Scottish history. And both he, the editor, and the producer, Susan Marling, allowed the interviewee to make a highly prejudicial political remark utterly superfluous to the programme’s subject matter.
This is another example of the BBC working hard to manufacture consent. We are asked to believe, but not to think for ourselves, that the natural state of governance in the British Isles is the United Kingdom government.
In fact, the programme’s entire thesis was predicated on the dubious question, “in a globalised world, could we not do better in terms of governance – either by looking to collections of cities, or to groupings of nations – to solve the problems of the 21st century.” (Quoted from the BBC’s publicity tag.)
The professor had no further learning to assist us in make that decision. He did not question globalisation, the doctrine that has concentrated untold wealth in the hands of a few powerful people and impoverished the rest of us for years to come.
He did not question the extreme development of rampant neo-liberal capitalism causing so many peoples to demand self-governance, the greatest number of nation states in human history. It was not from Lichtenstein that the near collapse of the world’s financial system eminated. He did not discuss how the largest nation “units” he seemed to prefer, the USA, Russia, and China, with the United Kingdom tagging along, continually use vetos to block progress at the United Nations, or that the USA refuses to pay its dues to the UN, a sum amounting to many millions.
There was no discussion on the great benefits of small nations and how they can support each other to fend off interference from dominant nations, and to lead by example. He did not say the break up of large nations into small ones weakens imperial aggression. There was absolutely nothing about egalitarian democracy easier to sustain in small countries. We were left with the impression large, monolithic empires are the best way for our planet to see another hundred years, climate change and all.
The professor has never heard the expression, small is beautiful.
Nor does he appear to have learned much from the history of brutal empires.
But he does know how to get a fee and some publicity for his books out of the BBC for fallacious programme material on the back of Scotland’s natural claim for regaining sovereignty.
And BBC London was pleased to oblige.